Still wrapping up the horror movie reviews from October… Now we come to the third in director/writer/producer George Romero’s zombie trilogy, Day of the Dead. The first two (Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, which I reviewed here) are among my favorite scary movies of all time, but I’d never seen this one before. Did it hold up compared to the first two?
Not quite, although it’s by no means a terrible movie. Where Night takes place the first evening of the zombie infestation, and Dawn a few weeks into it, as society is crumbling, Day takes place several months later, when society is long gone and most of humanity is dead. This one is set in Florida–an odd choice, since the first two take place around Romero’s hometown of Pittsburgh. And except for a few scenes at the beginning in a nearby town, we don’t even see much of Florida, because nearly the entire running length of the film is set in a miles-long underground cavern where various government records are stored.
The heroine is Dr. Sarah Bowman, one of a team of about half a dozen scientists working on a cure for the zombie infestation. There’s also another a similar number of soldiers in the cavern, there ostensibly to protect the scientists but actually at odds with them under their petty-tyrannical leader, Captain Rhodes.
The head scientist, Dr. Logan, thinks he’s close to a breakthrough. He’s figured out the zombies can learn, and has even trained one zombie, Bub, to respond to voice commands and listen to music through headphones (!). He keeps his experimental zombie subjects in a fenced-off portion of the cavern, and also runs a disgusting lab where he’s generally elbow-deep in blood and innards, trying to figure out how those zombies work.
However, Captain Rhodes thinks it’s all a waste of time, and the scientists and their dumb experiments a waste of resources. It’s not long before the camps led by Captain Rhodes and Dr. Logan are in open conflict, with that zombie pen just waiting to be opened….
Unfortunately, the monotony of the cavern setting and the reliance on melodramatic yelling matches between the members of the two groups to advance the plot mean this one drags at parts. On the other hand, it has by far the best gore and special effects–make-up artist Tom Savini won a Saturn Award for his work on Day of the Dead, and the awesomely disgusting zombies are still among the best work ever done in horror. This one’s not for everyone, but if you like zombies and have a strong stomach (the gore dial here is really turned to the maximum), it’s not a bad way to pass an evening.
Day of the Dead (1985)
Story/Plot/Characters–I don’t think you’d say it was Shakespearean or anything, but the Dead movies prior to this one at least had better acting than your typical horror flick. Not here. Decent premise but plot’s a little thin. Characters not totally stereotypical but not real well-rounded either. Better than most low-budget horrors but feels perfunctory after the horror magnificence of the first two movies. (1.5 points)
Special Effects–Superb. Best zombie make-up and prosthetics ever, awesome gore. (2 points)
Scariness–Relies too much on gore and melodrama to be really scary, but definitely has its moments. (1 point)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–Dr. Logan’s zombie lab and the zombie pen definitely give this a freaky vibe. A half point off for the endless samey-ness of the caverns, though. (1.5 points)
Total=6 points (Pretty Good)